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2009 November 16 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Windows 7 Can Wait Until It’s Time To Buy a New Computer

Every time Microsoft, developer of the world’s most popular personal computer operating systems, comes up with a new version of Windows, computer users wrestle with the question of whether they should upgrade.

The answer, in short, is yes, if it’s time to buy a new computer, which, by the way, will have Windows 7 preinstalled. But otherwise, no — it doesn’t make a lot of sense for most users to upgrade an existing computer from Windows Vista or Windows XP to Windows 7.

Neither does Windows 7 provide a compelling reason to switch to the Apple Macintosh, despite Apple’s compelling TV commercials. This decision is largely independent of the operating system and is based mostly on whether you can justify the Mac’s added cost.

There unquestionably are some positives about Windows 7.

It is faster on the same hardware than Vista, though not faster than Windows XP running programs designed for XP. Searching for files is easier with Windows 7 than Vista or XP, as is networking. Security is better and less intrusive.

For Vista users, Windows 7 is a fairly easy adjustment, as they look alike. If you’re going from Vista to Windows 7, all of your programs and peripheral hardware devices such as printers should work fine. That wasn’t the case with the upgrade from XP to Vista,

But if you’re running Windows XP, upgrading to Windows 7 requires you to reinstall your programs. Microsoft provides a tool called Windows Easy Transfer to help with this, though some users report that despite the name this isn’t easy.

Some users have reported problems in upgrading to Windows 7 from Vista. One problem, which appears to have been experienced by a small percentage of users, involves the failure of the upgrade part-way through the process. The Windows 7 upgrade routine alerts users that because of the failure, it is restoring Windows Vista. But instead, the Windows 7 setup process begins anew, then fails again, leading to an endless cycle.

Windows 7 also has no wow factor. This is actually both good and bad. There are no huge overhauls in the way things look, but there’s also nothing to get terribly excited about.

Many early adapters will no doubt jump, or have already jumped, at the opportunity to use this new and improved tool.

If you’re considering upgrading an existing computer or computers to Windows 7, first check out Microsoft’s Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (www.microsoft.com/
windows/windows-7/get/upgrade-advisor.aspx). It indicates whether your hardware and software can handle the new operating system, scanning your PC for potential issues with hardware, printer and other devices, and installed programs.

Most netbooks — the smallest notebook computers — come without an optical drive, and Windows 7 upgrades require one. There is a work-around, however, that involves copying a downloaded copy of Windows 7 onto a USB drive and tweaking the netbook’s BIOS (Basic Input Output System) to look for a USB drive before booting off the PC’s hard drive. A Microsoft spokesperson was quoted as saying that if you don’t know what is meant by tweaking the BIOS, you probably shouldn’t attempt it.

Windows 7 comes in three main versions: Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. Home Premium is fine for most home and small business users. Professional has advanced features for larger companies. And Ultimate adds encryption.

At the time of this writing, Office Depot was selling the Home Premium upgrade for $120 and full version for $200, the Professional upgrade for $200 and full version for $300, and the Ultimate upgrade for $220 and full version for $320. Student versions cost less, as does Windows 7 when it comes preinstalled on a new PC, though the preinstalled versions also come with less technical support.

Most individual users will likely want to avoid the potential hassle of upgrading their existing computer. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. But a new PC and Windows 7 pair nicely.

With the economy still uncertain, many companies will likely be wary about spending time and money upgrading their computing infrastructure, particularly in light of the fact that many machines are still doing fine running Windows XP, until Microsoft discontinues support. Right now it’s planning to drop business-oriented “extended support” for XP in 2014.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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